Mark Twain? Thomas Jefferson? Martin Farquhar Tupper? Seneca? Winston Churchill? James A. Garfield? Thomas Dixon? Michel de Montaigne? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Everyone faces difficulties in life; however, the worry-filled anticipation of possible setbacks pointlessly magnifies dangers. A comical statement illuminating this theme has been attributed to both Mark Twain and Winston Churchill:
I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.
I hope you will be willing to explore this saying. An upbeat perspective suggests that great discoveries await.
Quote Investigator: A version of this quip was ascribed to Mark Twain in a Singapore newspaper in 1923, but Twain died in 1910; hence, this evidence is quite weak. Winston Churchill employed an instance of the saying in 1924, but he attributed the words to an anonymous “old man”. Details for these citations are given further below.
The earliest strong match located by QI was published in 1881. The humorous remark was spoken by President-elect James A. Garfield who was discussing the large number of tasks he would be facing as President. The statement was reported in the Cleveland Leader of Cleveland, Ohio, and the phrasing indicated that Garfield was referencing a saying that was already in circulation: 1
I remember the old man who said he had had a great many troubles in his life, but the worst of them never happened.
Interesting ideational precursors of this expression were used by Seneca the Younger, Thomas Jefferson, and Martin Farquhar Tupper.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order which trace the evolution of the sentiment and the saying.
- 1881 February 19, Cleveland Leader, The Next President: Visited Yesterday by the Now Popular Governor Murray, Article section header: I Have Got Into A Way, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank) ↩